For all of the excitement, things seemed pretty normal in this NBA series between the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors. There was nothing really surprising about how things went.
The games were real struggles, but the home team won each time.
With few exceptions, all of the primary characters played their parts in the drama – James Harden, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and others were spectacular.
Then in the fourth periods of Games 4 and 5, things went a little screwy. Both teams’ standout players failed to take advantage of opportunities that would give them what they needed – a win on the road.
Game 4: Warriors’ Chances
First of all came the final-minute flukes of Game 4.
The Rockets had led most of the way, as much as 14 in the second half. And as the Warriors tend to do, they found a way to sneak back into the game when it counted. They got it to five in the last minute, and then Curry buried a 3-pointer with 19 seconds left to make it two.
That’s when things got strange.
Harden left the door open by hitting just one of two free throws with 11 seconds left, leaving Houston with a 3-point lead.
Then both Curry and Durant had 3-point looks. And good looks – shots they had been making all game and all series. But they could not tie the game. Chris Paul rebounded, was fouled and clinched it from the line with 2 remaining.
It became a 2-2 series.
Game 5: Houston’s Chances
Then things got even more bizarre in the final quarter of Game 5 in Oakland, a game Golden State eventually won, 104-99.
First Durant, the Warriors leader throughout the series, was out for the entire fourth quarter with a calf injury.
It was a close game, too, and you would think Houston would have the advantage, even on the road.
But the Rockets responded with Harden’s virtual absence during the final quarter. He took five shots during the entire period, and only one shot in the final seven minutes of the game.
Though Harden had 31 points in the game, it was his unexplained failure to make the plays he has all series in the final minutes with a chance to finally get a road win.
Down to Winning on Road
The Rockets have been doing the right things to get crucial contributions otherwise. And they have kept the Warriors off balance enough.
Sure, they would like to get a little more from Clint Capela. He hasn’t scored more than six points in the last two games.
But the key to this series has always been figuring a way to win on the road, now or later. After the events of Game 5, it has become later for the Rockets.
That means Game 7, and only if the home team can hold serve once more. Game 6, now a survival thing, tips off Friday at 8 p.m. (Central), in Toyota Center.
It is there and then when we will learn the extent of Durant’s injury and whether his team could revert to the winning form they had before he came aboard.
And it will be a final chance for the Rockets to show home fans that they have progressed to a level they have not reached before.